September home sales in Palm Beach County continued to trump 2012 with double-digit increases, but a cooling in volume and price from August may assuage fears that real estate is headed toward another bubble.

The median price for a single-family home in Palm Beach County was $250,000 in September, the same as August, but nearly 12 percent higher than last year, according to a report released Monday by the Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches.

The number of homes purchased was down 15 percent from August, but increased 21 percent from 2012.

At the same time, homes sold at the fastest clip in five years, sitting on the market just 44 days compared to an 85-day wait last year.

Such factors as a stubbornly low inventory of homes, especially those priced between $150,000 and $250,000, probably contributed to the September slowdown in sales volume.

 

But it’s also a more tepid month traditionally as buyers try to get settled before school starts, and shouldn’t be considered a harbinger of a sales slump, said Rochelle LeCavalier, managing broker for Pink Palm Properties in Boca Raton

 

“Prices have higher to go, absolutely,” LeCavalier said. “But is it going to be 2006 next year? Absolutely not.”

Statewide, the median sales price for a single-family home last month was $170,000, a 3 percent dip from August, but up 17 percent from September 2012. The number of sales fell 12 percent statewide from August, but was up 19 percent from last year.

A similar pattern was seen nationally as sales dipped 2 percent from August to an annual rate of 5.29 million, but were 10.7 percent higher than September 2012. The median sales price nationwide increased 12 percent from last year to $199,200.

Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, blamed higher prices for the drop in sales.

“Affordability has fallen to a five-year low as home price increases easily outpaced income growth,” Yun said. “Expected rising interest rates will further lower affordability in upcoming months.”

The average interest rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage rose to 4.49 percent in September from 4.4 percent in August, according to federal mortgage backer Freddie Mac.

LeCavalier said she still hears complaints about traditional home buyers squaring off against cash investors, but that it was especially bad earlier this year when the median sales price shot from $218,000 in January to $265,000 in April.

“I tell buyers, ‘if you’re calling about a home today, don’t think it’s going to be there next week,’” she said. “The sellers want cash and they’re getting multiple offers from investors.”

About 47 percent of single-family home sales countywide last month were cash deals. Statewide, cash sales made up 42 percent of sales.

Shannon Brink, of RE/MAX Prestige Realty in West Palm Beach, can attest to the quick turnaround in sales. He said he recently had a listing for $225,000 that had 10 showings and four offers on it within 48 hours.

“Anything in the $250,000 range or under seems to be gone in a matter of hours or a week at best,” he said. “Over $300,000, you have more options, but homes are still selling within a few weeks.”

The inventory of homes for sale in Palm Beach County increased slightly to five months in September from 4.8 months in August.

Tim Harris, president of the Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches, said an inventory under a six-month supply is a seller’s market that will hopefully push more people to list their homes. About 2,200 new homes were listed for sale last month, an increase of 32 percent from last year.

More homes means less competition and stabilizing prices, said C.F. Sirmans, a professor with Florida State University’s Center for Real Estate Education and Research.

“At least in theory, sellers will respond,” said Sirmans, who is not concerned about a real estate bubble in Florida. “Prices went down fairly dramatically in most markets. They are trying to readjust.”

By Kimberly Miller